Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Social Media and Public Servants—Proceed With Caution!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
January 23, 2023

On February 4, 2004, Mark Zuckerberg created the Facebook social media platform. What started as a way for him to stay connected to his school buddies grew to the massive worldwide social platform it is today. Most technological advances and breakthroughs of this nature start out with great promise and excitement. As they age, however, there are unforeseen consequences that have to be dealt with and changes made. That’s the focus of this article.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The good is that social media platforms have made the world smaller, much the same as when fiber optic cable was laid on the oceans’ floors in 1988. In fact, all telecommunication depends on these cables for continent-to-continent transmission. There are more than one million submerged kilometers of fiber optic cables in our oceans, pulsing with light as they transmit data from one continent to another. Just like the social media platforms, these cables have new alternate uses, primarily valuable to oceanographers. As social media usage expands, it can really benefit those countries looking to develop economically and politically. It can also accelerate individual liberties and freedom in closed countries such as North Korea and China.

The bad is that social media has reduced the quality of our communications immeasurably. Terse, emotionless or cryptic messages are no substitute for direct, effective communication among us—and certainly from public servants to the people they serve. Oftentimes, people post without personal identification so they hide behind those walls, launching virtual bombs and then stepping away from the mess they created. Interpersonal communications have greatly suffered in our younger generations.

The ugly is that some devious people and public agencies have already realized that they can manipulate social media to try and influence social activity, voting and elections and other social structure. These are clearly mischievous and unethical uses of a great communications capability. Some employees within these social media companies themselves have realized that they can internally alter and modify the message by deleting or preventing posts and by pushing people off their platform. The huge problem that remains unsolved is how heads of government agencies interface with and use social media platforms. There have been unethical practices discovered recently that have caused investigations to be undertaken by the U.S. Congress.

Social media use by Government Agencies and Public Sector Employees

There are benefits and there are risks concerning public servants using social media platforms. The benefits include a deeper reach to the public they serve while the risk involves speaking for the organization—describing policy that may or may not reflect what that organization stands for. Those two things must be well understood by any public administrator before they dabble in the social media space. Following are two examples of proper use of social media by public entities: school districts and a government agency.

Organizations—The Public School Districts

School districts must fully understand the value and risk of social media. Messages should be vetted before they are published. Posts should be factually oriented, informative and reach those who may not receive the same news in any other way. For example, if an administrator gives an interview to the local newspaper, there are many who do not read the newspaper, either in print form or on the Internet. Social media allows these administrators to post giving the viewer a glimpse into the primary topic and a link for those who wish to know more.

Agencies – The Veterans Administration (VA)

The VA has been very active in trying to reach vets through social media. It maintains several different pages on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VeteransBenefitshttps://www.facebook.com/VeteransHealth and  https://www.facebook.com/VHAInnovation. There are many other VA pages on Facebook that are generated by the regional and local offices as well. As a vet, I receive frequent emails from the VA informing me of all kinds of things like new laws that affect veterans such as the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act). That law helps those exposed to burn pits and other toxins while serving the nation.

There are certainly answers to the big questions of what is permissible and what is not by leaders of government agencies with respect to social media. First of all, remember that both Facebook and Twitter are private. Facebook is publicly traded while Twitter is not. The bottom line is that both platforms must remain independent of government control, influence or persuasion of any kind.


While it is fine for government agencies to use social media platforms to reach their public, it is not ok for them to try and collude with these companies in an attempt to control the message. Government employees should have their posts reviewed by a responsible person in their agency before they go public. Every government employee receives training on what is ethical and proper use of social media and the inherent risks of speaking for the organization. Cat videos are just fine but something that reflects poorly on the organization is not. We all need to understand and respect these limitations as we strive for more social reach.

Author: Dr. Robert Brescia respects the wisdom of generations, promotes the love of learning, teaches ethics to university students, government & politics to AP seniors, and leadership to organizations. He is a candidate for National Board for Certification of Teachers (NBCT) at Stanford University. The Governor of Texas appointed him to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Robert_Brescia.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

One Response to Social Media and Public Servants—Proceed With Caution!

  1. Jimmy R. Aycart Reply

    January 30, 2023 at 11:21 am

    There is no question about that the “social media platform have made the world smaller.” However, besides its contribution to individual liberties and freedom, it must be stated that during the 1980s, social media platforms (transistors’ radio) favored the social and economic changes of the rural and underserved communities of Latin America. But, today, the people in general read less and listen more (incomplete, bias, and fake news) therefore their respond is based on an incomplete analysis of what has been reported. I hope that journalism find ways to improve their communication process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *